SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — Two years after the devastating Wine Country fires broke out, organizers of Sunday’s “Sonoma Ready Day” were hoping to share some of the lessons learned with the public about being prepared for emergencies. They were not disappointed by the turnout.

The traffic jam leading to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds stretched clear to Highway 101 and looked like it might be for a rock concert, not a disaster preparedness fair.

“Were you expecting this many people?” Sebastopol resident Kate Blake was asked. “No, we had no idea. We were really surprised,” she said. “But we were really excited about it, so it makes sense that other people were, too.”

But then, after the fires, first responders are considered rock stars around the area. 4,000 people came to learn how they can better prepare for whatever Mother Nature throws at them. There was a lot to learn, but learning is only the first step.

“Knowing what to do is different than actually doing it,” said county Emergency Management Director Christopher Godley. “So today, we’re trying to move people into action…build that disaster kit, have a family emergency plan, know what to do if you have to evacuate.”

But the big draw was 2,400 free backpacks containing emergency items like water, freeze-dried food, and a flashlight. Though it’s not everything a family might need, it’s a start.

“…knowing what’s in there so I can prepare more for each of the family,” said Santa Rosa resident Trang Le.

When the fires were burning, communications became a real challenge, so officials were encouraging people to sign up for “SoCo Alert,” the county-wide notification system that pushes life-saving information out to the public.

“You’ll get a text on any type of disaster preparedness,” said Sonoma Supervisor Shirley Zane. “If there’s an evacuation, if there is a stay in place…whatever that is, we’re going to alert you.”

The backpacks won’t prevent a fire from happening, but they may move people to action and provide a little peace of mind when the warm, dry winds begin blowing. The threat of a disaster always feels more real when you’ve lived through one, residents said.

“If those fires had never happened, do you think you’d be here this morning picking up an emergency backpack?” Santa Rosa resident Franz Prell was asked. “Probably not…that’s true,” he replied.

Sunday’s was the first “Sonoma Ready Day,” but now that 4,000 people have shown up, they’re thinking this may need to become an annual event.

If you are a Sonoma County resident and would like to sign up for the SoCo Alert System, click on the following link: www.socoalert.org

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